Turn Your Laptop into a TV

As long as you have your trusty laptop with you, there’s no need to miss out on your favorite TV shows wherever you may be at the moment. One solution that works anywhere is to use an actual TV tuner – either in the form of an expansion card or a USB dongle. Those things are pretty cheap and easy to get by, but if you have access to a reasonably fast internet connection you can solve the dilemma without resorting to new hardware.

Whether you can’t stand missing out on who gets the boot from America’s Next Top Model, or you just want to tune in for Andy Rooney’s latest rant on 60 Minutes there’s bound to be an alternative that lets you watch it on your laptop.

The Hardware Approach

If you don’t have access to an Internet connection at the moment or it’s simply too slow (as in dialup), an add-on express card or USB TV tuner is the right choice, plus it enables you to record or pause live TV. USB sticks with a built-in TV tuner are typically available for less than $50 and should be fully adequate as long as you can get a good signal, although you may have to pay a little more if you want HDTV capability.  A couple of examples:

Pinnacle PCTV HD Mini Stick

Pinnacle’s HDTV capable USB stick is no larger than the average thumb drive but has all the features you could ask for in a TV tuner, including the capability to deliver superior quality HDTV, record your favorite shows, and even edit them via the bundled software from Pinnacle. Basically, it has all the features of a TiVo DVR box in a tiny form factor.

TerraTec Cinergy USB XS

The Cinergy XS is a more basic solution but it lets you watch TV on your laptop nonetheless. You can use it with a cable connection or attach it to a small antenna. An advantage of the Cinergy stick is that it’s really small and consequently highly portable. Naturally, it also allows you to record programs and store them on your hard drive.

Web Based TV

If you have a broadband connection you don’t need a tuner at all to watch television. There are lots of websites out there that let you watch your favorite shows for free (legally). You are probably already familiar with YouTube, but there are lots of other sites that deserve a closer look; these are just a few examples:


A fair share of ABCs lineup is available online and can be watched instantly. And what’s more is that you can watch the shows in high definition – full-length episodes of Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and several other major shows can be streamed straight to your laptop. Again a prerequisite is a fast internet connection; high quality requires high bandwidth.


Hulu is an excellent source for free streaming video content from all the major networks. Both full-length movies and TV shows are available, albeit not in HD quality. All of the content is ad-supported and therefore completely free to watch. Hulu offers a vast variety of different shows, so make sure to check it out.


Joost is a relatively new service from the makers of Skype – it has thousands of videos available for streaming, so logically at least a few of them has to be worth looking at. Joost is powered by Peer-to-peer (file sharing) technology for sharing videos, and it also aspires to be a social site, relying on its members to interact and recommend fun stuff to watch.


ChooseAndWatch is a portal to TV channels with streaming media. At the time of writing, the site has collected and categorized 350 different channels for convenient browsing. A neat feature is that you can easily see which media player is required for the different TV channels.


Freetube.110mb.com is another portal with categorized links to streaming media from hundreds of TV channels. Just like at ChooseAndWatch, it shows you which media players are compatible – Windows Media Player, QuickTime, Flash etc. The site is very simple and easy to navigate, and it also provides descriptions of the different channels.

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tried out some of those web ones, freetube is pretty good mixed with hulu.


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